Thought for the Day - Lord Singh - 18/09/2012

Yesterday’s announcement of the possibility of replacing damaged embryonic material with that from a third person to prevent inherited genetic disease has caused some alarm with calls for a rigorous ethical debate.

As I understand it, the procedure involves the substitution of a faulty power component of a cell with a healthy replacement. In practical terms however, the parents will continue to be those who nourish and care for the child giving freely of their time and resources to help the boy or girl grow up in a healthy way to be a responsible member of society.

Sikhs attitudes to the use of scientific advance fully support the use of science to promote health and healing. There is no conflict between Sikh teachings and scientific discovery, and science is viewed as a gift of God to be used for the greater wellbeing of all. To Sikhs the ethics of scientific discovery lie in to the use to which such discoveries are put. As Dr Werner Von Braun inventor of the V2 rocket and the father of the American space programme put it, a knife can be used as means of killing, or as a surgeon’s scalpel to combat disease and promote healing.
To some extent we all have foreign genetic material introduced in us whenever we are vaccinated to prevent disease. A person who has a life saving organ transplant introduces genetic material from a third person into his or her body.

Yet we should always bear in mind the possible downsides to genetic manipulation and we already see this in male child obsessed countries like India and China, where embryonic testing for gender, has in some places, led to many unnecessary abortions and an alarming disparity in boy/ girl ratios.

What concerns me is not the inevitable advance in scientific discovery, but our obsession with self and what I want. This blurs our ability to use concepts of right, wrong and responsibility to make rational ethical decisions on the benefits or downside of scientific discovery. It is these imperative, emphasised in Sikhism and other faiths that we must keep to the fore to ensure new discoveries in science and other fields are always used for the greater good.

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